Mental health professionals, advocates and Anne Arundel County residents had a strong message for the state Wednesday night: "Don't close Crownsville!"
During a 90-minute hearing in Annapolis attended by about 65 people, 12 of the 15 who testified opposed closing the psychiatric hospital on sprawling grounds in central Anne Arundel County.
"I am here to testify that Crownsville works," said Micheal Blain, a former patient who now works there. "Crownsville Hospital Center is a special place serving the unique needs of a diverse community."
Mr. Bain addressed seven members of a 20-member task force charged with studying the efficiency of the state's mental hospitals. The task force released a draft report in early March that recommended closing one of three regional psychiatric hospitals -- Crownsville, Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, Baltimore County -- by the year 2000. The report did not specify which should be closed.
Task force Chairman James R. Stanton said closing one of the hospitals is in line with the state's continuing efforts to treat XTC mentally ill people in community-based settings rather than in hospitals.
"The critical issue is that we think it through to cause minimal disruption to people's lives," he said.
Dr. Stuart Silver, director of the Maryland Mental Hygiene Administration, said, "Thirty-eight states are examining closing some of their state hospitals. There's a question of whether we need 12 public mental institutions in Maryland."
The task force believes alternative treatment facilities and services must be in place before any hospitals are closed. One of the three hospitals in Central Maryland is targeted because closing a smaller facility, such as one on the Eastern Shore, would cause the loss of mental health services in an already under-served area.
Mary Mitchell, coordinator of On Your Own, said the support group for mentally ill patients supports closing a hospital if the resources go back into mental health services, such as community-based housing.
"Community-based services are now the model," she said. "To get the new funding needed for these services, the only option is to close a hospital."
Many at the meeting said that if the state does decide to close a facility, it should spare Crownsville.
Gail Livingstone, a member of the hospital's advisory board and mother of two daughters treated there, said Crownsville treats patients from five counties and has the second-largest patient base in the state.
"There are 35,000 seriously mentally impaired people in the five counties served," she said.
The state will hold three more hearings in counties that could be affected by the closing of a hospital -- Prince George's County on April 20, Montgomery County on April 25 and Carroll County on May 2.
At a hearing in Baltimore County Monday night, 75 people turned out, mostly in opposition to closing Spring Grove.
And a hearing in Carroll County, originally scheduled for April 7, had to be postponed when 200 people packed a room at Carroll Community College above capacity. Sentiments at that short-lived meeting were clearly against closing Springfield.
The public meeting in Carroll County will be from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. May 2 at Westminster High School.